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Thursday, February 12, 2015

If Human Failure Is So Common, Why Don't We Ever Seem to Learn Anything From It?

I've spent this past week re-reading the nearly 2000 blogs I have posted over the past 6 years on Frankenstein Government. I was overwhelmed at times, primarily because I hadn't really realized just how much of myself and my personal life I had exposed to the world. I did that I think in a bid to be honest and to try and convey a sense that I am a fallible human being. Very often when we get things right- people expect that. However, when we get things wrong we sometimes pay too high a price, and the lesson stays with us. The judgers always heap a little extra shame and guilt on us. That additional sting seems to help cement our memories of a failure and sometimes we bury it as deep as we can.

You'd think that something as common as human failure would have taught our culture a great deal by now. However, as I examined everything that I read- including some of the material I had written-it became abundantly clear to me that we either don't understand human failure, deny it's existence, or claim failure's birthplace lies in the deeds of others.

For many years I used  a famous Isabel Paterson's quote from the "God of the Machine" as my subtitle. I used it because I believe that the vast majority of what is wrong in the world was captured within that quote.

“Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.”

Just a few years ago, I set about the duty of applying that quote to everything that I believed was wrong in the world. Only on rare occasions could I find exceptions to that. Deliberate and un-remorseful criminal conduct certainly comes to mind. There are other exceptions for sure, but even Hitler as mentally ill as he most certainly was, thought he was doing mankind a favor by trying to "purify" races. In some sick and perverse way, Hitler's story is the story I want to tell. It is the story of human failure. It is a lesson we must all learn.

People fail. Time and time again, they fail to meet our expectations. That's what they do.

Our parents fail, our children fail, our friends fail, our spouses fail, our managers fail, our government and leadership fails, and yet somehow all of this failure still seems to disturb and disappoint us. It disappoints us because each of us carries these undisclosed expectations that we think others should possess and adhere to. That type of thinking in itself, is a wonderful example of failure.

Sometimes failure is unavoidable. Once in awhile, an entire stream of failures comes our way and there is simply nothing we can do about it, try as we might.

A few years ago, I used to work out at a small gym near my home. The gym was located in a strip mall which was "under engineered" meaning that the parking lot was too narrow and too long. Diagonal parking spots on both sides of the narrow lot often meant narrowly missing other cars as you backed out of your parking space. Shortly after buying my new car in the fall of 2012, I parked right in front of the gym's main doors. Before leaving one evening, I noted that there were two large, 3/4 ton trucks parked on both sides of my Elantra. As I tried to back out, I was doing so with my vision and view completely obstructed on both sides. I was struck by another motorist who was driving on the left or wrong side of the lot- directly behind the parked cars. Had he been driving on the opposing side- like everyone else does- we would never have swapped paint.

Now bear in mind that I have investigated thousands of accidents in my life- at least half of which were on private property. There are no state laws governing the flow of traffic in a parking lots yet people backing out of parking spaces are almost universally at fault in the eyes of insurance adjusters.This I know to be true and in fact- I actually placed my own wife at fault in a nearly identical accident 20 years earlier and I ate the 500 dollar deductible. With a 1000 dollar deductible looming- I thought it best to call the police this time around.

It took a Boise police officer over 20 minutes to arrive. By that time, both of the "obstructed view" truck owners had departed. I had sufficiently pissed off everyone, including the gym employees and others, who were trying to navigate through the lot because I wouldn't allow the vehicles to be moved. When the cop arrived, he refused to do anything and told me that the Boise Police do not investigate private property accidents. (Or anything else short of an occasional robbery or murder it seems) He didn't even bother snapping a photo. I did. When the adjusters got the accident- they immediately determined that I was at fault. Try as hard as I might by explaining that I do not possess x-ray vision nor do I expect people to be driving down the wrong side of the parking lot- I couldn't win. In fact, the only satisfaction that I ever received in my multiple calls with these guys was when I asked them once on a conference call whether or not all accidents without exception- involving a backing motorist-were always the fault of the backing motorist. Had they ever found an exception, I queried. There was a brief lull or silence as they mulled over the possibility that maybe there were exceptions however, their decision had already been made and thus they switched subjects and dug in.The net effect of all of this clamoring on deaf ears was that I paid for the 800 dollars worth of damage to my own car out of my own pocket- and since that time I have been surcharged about 180 bucks a year on my insurance premiums. So far my losses are nearing 1400 bucks.

So what went wrong? The lot had been poorly engineered and was too small to begin with. The other driver was on the wrong side of the lot driving directly behind parked cars and never mentioned why he hadn't seen my car backing up. I should not have parked where I did because I knew better. The Boise Police did nothing to document what happened because they are so woefully busy. (Up until I retired as Chief in my little corner of the world, I had made it mandatory that officers investigate all accidents- public or private) The insurance adjusters had made up their mind before I ever spoke to them. So a lot of people and various failures had to occur- before I could be held accountable in what amounts to really- a fairly petty event with a high price tag.

It took me nearly a year to get ok with this. Every time I drove by that little gym (it is now closed) I would be reminded of that evening. To be perfectly honest- I am still a little pissed about the way every one involved handled their roles and responsibilities. Had this been properly investigated, I am confident that I could take this to a small clams court and most likely win. It would have been nice to see a rational, non involved judge, take a look at this.

Throughout my life, I was never really prepared for failure. Who gives failure any thought? For so many years, failure was something that happened and I never really gave it any more thought than I didn't like it, or I was frustrated or angry about it. I don't think anybody in our culture is explaining this concept or teaching our children that people fail and that you are going to feel somewhat hostile when people fail to meet your needs or expectations. I often think that understanding human failure, had it been delivered effectively to me in my formative years, might have saved me a lot of useless anger and energy. Indeed as I ready myself to pay a 500 dollar penalty for not buying a health insurance policy that I cannot afford- I know that the penalty will be used to pay for someone else's insurance- just not mine. There is an insane amount of irony there- but I have already learned to accept it. I didn't create the world, I don't run the world, and I certainly don't pick the winners and losers.

The lesson here is that life and all of it's failures are going to visit you. If you can prepare and accept that simple concept- the concept that sometimes the best we can do as a society- is not very good at all then your expectations can be realistically and beneficially lowered. If you can grasp the idea that none of this is personal- that our culture is doing the best that it can and that it was not designed to victimize you one day in a skinny parking lot somewhere- then you may find yourself emotionally and spiritually light years ahead of your peers.

However, if you continue to criticize every mistake our culture makes then the opposite will be true. You will find yourself angry, resentful, and frustrated as the world consistently fails to meet your expectations, real or imagined.

Currently we have an entire society focused on being victims and building resentments. We can't even play a game where a coach's decision is not some hotly debated issue where people clamor to attach guilt or shame or punishment to a decision that doesn't turn out well. Everyone it seems- is more than willing to point out every one else's failures while declaring their own failures justified or keeping them under wraps.

Think about this. How many times have you read a blog, a thread, or comment wherein the writer declares how stupid everyone else is and in so doing by omission or default- then claims the intellectual high ground for themselves? That's the "everyone else is the problem, present company excluded" boilerplate.

Accepting failure as a consequence of being human seems trite. Yet virtually everywhere I go people are whining about the consequences of our multiple failures as a society- failures which are going to continue to mount and which will probably pick up in speed and intensity. That's one of the reasons I wanted to switch gears on this blog. There is no value or solution in pointing out the obvious or by trying to out yell opponents locked in some ridiculous debate over who is responsible for our current failures- the same type of failures pointed out by Isabelle Paterson in 1943. (Remember the plight of Japanese Americans the year before?)

By accepting the premise that most people are trying to do the right thing but will ultimately fail- we give ourselves an opportunity to practice acceptance and tolerance without throwing ropes over limbs, building a mountain of angry resentments, or chugging a six pack of beer every night. People fail. They've been doing it since the Garden of Eden. It's probably high time we started passing this lesson along, perhaps building a little tolerance and forgiveness along the way rather than adding to the non stop bitching that seems to be so prevalent everywhere.


Monday, February 9, 2015

With the Blurred Speed of an Oncoming Glacier

I've been working on this blog. Transitioning it into something original. Well, that's the goal anyway. As I examine the synonyms- the word "segue" comes to mind. So let me rant just a bit about stupid words and stupid contraptions before I get to the heart of the matter.

Several years ago, the word "segue" came into vogue. I vaguely remember someone on television using it once and overnight it seems- I began to hear people in my personal life using it all the time. It became a fad. Then someone started making some personal platform called a "Segway" where fat cops no longer needed to walk. Like we just couldn't live with out this device-

People actually buy this thing. I still use my legs instead.

The Mayor used the word "segue" every time I heard her speak. People started using it because she used it. It was contagious. People are like that. If they hear some new word that they like such as "tarmac" they begin using it like they had known the word forever- rather than just admitting they had just seen it on the nightly news for the first time. For everything we know I suppose, there was a time when we didn't know it.

Ok, I feel a little better.

A few weeks ago, the great Seahawk receiver Steve Largent, was the guest speaker at our annual business meeting. Largent was very gracious and a class act. I didn't know that he had done a couple of terms in Congress for Oklahoma- but I had the idea that he might have run for office because he believes in public service. He faced an absolute onslaught of questions.

During the Q and A, I asked Steve Largent what was the greatest day of his life. He might have mentioned college, draft day, the NFL, or giant contracts, his best game, maybe the Hall of Fame. Instead, Steve Largent said the very best day of his life was January 4th, 1975. The day he married his wife.

I suppose if there was one bright spot in 25 years of law enforcement- the job taught me to listen to people, comprehend what they were saying, and then write with a high degree of accuracy- what they had to say in the form of a report. On the flight home from Seattle- I contrasted last year's speaker, Adam Carolla, with Steve Largent and I compared the message both of them had delivered. The difference was striking.

Striking not because one was better than the other- but because emotionally these two men are in completely different time zones. We are all taking a journey here and we have things to learn and overcome. Some folks get it, some folks will get it, and some folks will never get it. That is the really remarkable thing.

Had my life been cut short at 47- I would have landed in the "didn't get it" camp.

I managed people. I had hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of management training. I took great pride on my knowledge of all facets of human resource law. I detested oppressive, controlling management. Yet in some bizarre twist of fate, I think I became what I detested most. Life has a way of finding people who need to be chewed up and tossed out and I was one of them. I had out stayed my welcome and as I look back on that life- I feel fortunate that I got as much time as I did. I probably deserved far less.

I have to tell you this. I work with people now who think the very same way that I once did. They believe they are vastly superior and intelligent and I enjoy just listening to them. I find it to be very entertaining actually and in some karmic sort of way- I am forced to watch it. They remind me of me!

Great adversity can be the Miracle-Gro of emotional evolution. It certainly was for me. As I look back- it was the very best thing that ever happened to me. The very best day of my life came on Oct. 9, 2007.

I think the great lesson I learned- the one I want to talk about here- is that for everything you know- there was a time when you didn't know it. That's it. That is all there ever was. It's an ongoing process.

For 6 years, I've been here writing about what is wrong with the world. I have a list of 75 blogs I read almost daily. Every author, without exception, talks about what is wrong with the world and mostly they are correct. They are trying to inform others. There is nothing wrong with that. I just don't want to do that anymore. I think the blogging world has it covered.

I'm looking for a little sanity. That's what I want this blog to become. A place of refuge where you might read something funny, useful, or insightful. Honest stuff. The things we get right. I don't know exactly what this will look like just yet- but I'm pretty sure what it's not going to look like. So please stay tuned- I've got a couple of crazy ideas and I am just nutty enough to try a couple of them.